Glendale: Desire to take root is evergreen

March 25, 2004

Desire to take root is evergreen


Last December marked the second Christmas I was without my father; his
death was sudden. As the year before, I had no intention of buying an
evergreen for my apartment. Suspecting this to be the case, my mom
showed up at my doorstep right before Christmas with a perky little
tree firmly rooted in soil. I immediately decorated it with a simple
string of white lights and a photo of my father. I hastily replanted
it in a large and shiny golden pot and placed it at my window.

Flavia Baioco noticed a petite Christmas tree at a second-story window
while on her way to meet her 8-year-old daughter’s new teacher at a
Glendale public school. She walked under the open window, stopped,
looked up at the tree, and got a glimpse of a man’s silhouette in the
background. She resumed her walk and disappeared from the man’s frame
of reference.

She was dressed in a gray pinstriped suit, complemented by her
authentic Blahnik sling-backs and a fake Prada purse; a tiny wooden
pendant with a hand painting of baby Jesus and mother Mary decorated
her fair chest. She was particularly proud of her $30 purse. Only a
handful of fellow moms recognized it was a knockoff; they roguishly
extrapolated that her blond hair was counterfeit, as well.

Flavia was from the southern Brazilian town of Pelotas. Born into an
Italian immigrant family, she had been rushed to marry a man a couple
of decades her senior. After going through a thorny divorce, she
managed to escape the heavy hands of her ex-husband. She had moved to
Glendale, where her older brother had already settled.

Priscila, her daughter, was the only gem left for Flavia from her
marriage. Flavia carried the heavy burden of not shielding her baby
girl from recurring turbulence. The frequent displacements, the family
arguments, the loss of friends and the premature detachment from her
father had taken their toll on Pri.

As Flavia marched across the school’s parking lot, her golden locks
and wooden pendant bounced up and down in unison with her every
step. Her oceanic eyes were resolutely pinned on the entrance door. It
was 8:15 a.m.; Mrs. Clemence was awaiting her. She approached the
glass entrance, pulled on the brushed silver rectangular handle, and
threw herself inside by the momentum generated by her short-lived
struggle with the heavy door. The ground she walked on had been
transformed; the shiny tan linoleum floor replaced the asphalt and
provided her a new launching pad to burst forward. Her pace picked up.

She walked straight down the first hallway, turned right at the water
fountain and anxiously entered Room 104’s waiting area. She knocked on
the door.

“Come in, please.”

The lady behind the desk walked up to Flavia and extended her hand.

“You must be Mrs. Baioco; I know all about beautiful Priscila.”

“It’s nice to meet you.”

“I am Mrs. Clemence. I will be Pri’s new teacher.”

“You know about my daughter’s condition, yes?”

“Yes, dear. Mrs. Carling has told me all about sweet Pri.”

Flavia felt relieved. She immediately pulled out a tape from her
purse, placed it on the old desk, and pushed it forward against the
wood grain.

“We have been practicing the upcoming lessons. I wanted Pri to have a
head start this time.”

Mrs. Clemence’s mind wandered off to some of her students with special
needs. There was the little native boy with ADD, the raucous Armenian
girl who had missed two years of school while spending time in refugee
camps in Germany, the subdued Albanian boy who managed to flee Kosovo
on his father’s shoulders through the Montenegrin highlands, and of
course, Pri, the fragile, olive-skinned Brazilian girl with the
melancholy eyes.

Pri had chosen to be a selective mute from the day she set foot on
American soil. For two years, she had defiantly refused to utter a
single word to anyone. She spoke only to Flavia in private. Every time
she had been displaced, she had let herself believe this would be her
new home. She believed no more.

During this period, Flavia had been orally recording Pri’s homework on
tape and had been delivering it to Mrs. Carling every Monday morning.

“You know, Mrs. Clemence, Pri had a small breakthrough recently.”

For the past month, a school district counselor had been visiting the
Baiocos at their home every night. Pri was eventually convinced the
friendly lady was a long-lost Armenian aunt with relatives in
Pelotas. In spite of her muteness, Pri had absorbed plenty from her
multiethnic environment. Just before the holidays, Pri had curiously
approached her newfound aunt and uttered a word: “Barev” (“Hello” in

“Mrs. Baioco, I think of my students as my own children. We’ll find a
way to overcome Pri’s condition.”

My tree did not make it past Armenian Christmas. It never grew roots
in the golden pot. It sits on my balcony, brown and brittle.

PATRICK AZADIAN lives and works in Glendale. He is an identity and
branding consultant for the retail industry. Reach him at
[email protected].